Uber’s April announcement that Dallas-Fort Worth has been selected as one of two test cities (Dubai, being the second) for its new airborne service, Uber Elevate, was exciting news for our entire region and for those of us on the Hillwood team. We’re thrilled that Frisco Station—the project we are developing in partnership with Van Trust Real Estate and The Rudman Partnership that will foster a productive, creative and inspiring environment—will be home to one of the first Vertiports in Uber’s network and an international focal point for what promises to be a tech story unlike any other.
In the past few weeks, I’ve heard from colleagues and friends all over the country about the announcement, and many have been interested to know how our region was selected for such a high-tech pilot program (no pun intended). And then, this past week, Facebook formally opened its massive data center at AllianceTexas, which will bring more than $1 billion in total investment when complete.
The bottom line: tech is riding high in North Texas and the rest of the world is taking note.
This comes as no surprise to those of us who’ve been a part of the North Texas business community for any length of time. While we’re not historically mentioned in the same breath as Silicon Valley, North Texas has long been a major player in the tech industry. In fact, our two histories are somewhat similar. Whereas Silicon Valley was launched by Bill Hewlett and David Packard, we trace our roots to equally regarded pioneers—Erik Jonsson, Eugene McDermott, and Patrick Haggerty—founders of Texas Instruments. Both companies were founded in the 1930s, but became technology powerhouses in the 1950s.
And, while Gordon Moore launched Intel in 1968, Ross Perot and Charles Tandy were just beginning to hit their strides with Electronic Data Systems and Tandy Corp./RadioShack, respectively. When Apple emerged in the 1970s, bringing the concept of the personal computer to general consciousness, it was actually RadioShack that brought it to the masses. Though it would be hard to convince anyone under the age of 40 today, RadioShack’s TRS-80 model outsold the Apple II by a factor of five—dominating the personal computer industry during the first half of the 1980s. All the while, defense companies like General Dynamics (now Lockheed Martin Aero) and Bell Helicopter, among others, were beginning work on the advanced computer aircraft systems that, today, dominate the skies of the world.
So where did our vibrant tech industry go after the 1980s? The truth is that it never really left. Today, Texas is the number two state for technology jobs in the nation, and even though the Austin area is home to Dell, North Texas clearly leads the state in technology jobs. According to Cyberstates 2017, the leading annual analysis of tech industry employment (compiled by CompTIA), North Texas added more than 3,000 technology jobs in 2016, bringing the region’s total to nearly 210,000 workers at close to 11,000 tech business establishments. Compare that number to Austin’s, which boasts 113,000 tech employees at 5,000 business establishments, and Houston’s, which has 136,000 employees at 8,100 tech companies.
Though both are impressive, and Austin continues to be a darling in the industry, North Texas is leading the way and is poised to see its biggest growth in the technology sector ever. Last year, The New York Times featured an in-depth story on the growth of the data center market in the region, highlighting the Facebook facility at AllianceTexas and the growth of data centers in Richardson’s Telecom Corridor and Collin County. Just within the past year in Collin County, we’ve seen Skybox Datacenters open the first phase of its 21-acre campus and Stream Data Centers expand its regional presence with the recent opening of a 16-acre campus.
The increased presence of data centers in North Texas mirrors the rapid growth taking place across the region over the past decade. As more businesses and individuals relocate here, the demand for data has never been greater. Companies need more bandwidth as they transfer data to the cloud to make it easily accessible to employees at any location. Individuals are using greater amounts of data as they expand their use of video streaming services and integrate additional types of wireless technology, such as fitness bands and VR devices, into their daily lives.
Growth is not the only thing bringing data centers to North Texas. Redundancy is another factor, especially at AllianceTexas where the Brazos Co-Op and Oncor come together at the same location to generate power independently. It also helps that Texas operates on its own electrical grid, separate from the rest of the nation. These combined factors mitigate the risk that data center operations will be disrupted by power outages. Affordable electrical rates stemming from deregulation are another thing working in our favor.
We’re also seeing a new generation of tech incubators thriving. We’ve embraced this concept at AllianceTexas, providing assistance to two innovative and successful startup concepts, with Booster Fuels (on-demand, app-based fuel delivery service) and Pickup (on-demand, app-based pickup truck hauling service)—both of which have showcased our region in the national media. Hillwood’s not alone in this effort. Local incubators such as Tech Wildcatters are working with entrepreneurs to invest money, time, and resources into promising tech concepts.
Local organizations are also creating an environment in which technology companies and startups will thrive. In 2015, the Dallas Regional Chamber partnered with D Magazine to create Dallas Innovates, a digital source offering news, features, profiles, and commentary that is relevant to entrepreneurs. Dallas Innovates supplements this news with a daily e-newsletter, speakers, and other events. In Richardson, the Tech Titans organization has become the largest technology trade association in Texas, representing more than a quarter million employees through 300 member companies. Tech Titans hosts more than 30 events annually and provides resources for growing future technology leaders, supports the current technology workforce, advocates for technology’s advancement in governmental arenas, and helps connect people within the industry.
These are exciting times for technology in North Texas. This region is fully engaged in the technology sector, and we have the workforce in place to fulfill the ever-growing demand as more tech companies establish their footprint in our communities. With unprecedented resources and support available for technological innovation, what lies ahead could transform the way the rest of the world views this region.
Mike Berry is president of Hillwood Properties and Hillwood Urban.